Blog is moving to updated Minds On Fire website!

Excited to announce the launch of Minds On Fire’s new website, which now hosts this blog. If you subscribe to posts by email, you will able to do the same with the new blog. If you follow me on your WP Reader, the good people at WP will move your subscriptions over shortly.

I’ve greatly appreciated your readership here and hope you will join me (and my Emerging Leaders!) in our new home.

While you’re at it, check out our new YouTube channel! My Emerging Leaders and I are chatting self care for social entrepreneurs and youth-serving professionals. I am so proud of their dedication to their health and wellness.

Forget about vulnerability: let’s talk about shamelessness

My life has been a speeding train lately, and oh, how I’ve missed my blog! My emerging leaders and I are working on self care for the next few weeks, so this post indulges in quite a bit of navel gazing.

Let’s get to my thoughts on vulnerability and shame that I promised almost a month ago—but first: hat tip to Brené Brown, who has really pushed the discussion on authenticity forward by speaking openly about her own vulnerability and shame. My two cents on this revolves around how shamelessness resonates with me much more than vulnerability, and how letting go of shame is one of the kindest and most empowering gifts I’ve given myself. Continue reading

When it comes to love, don’t ask ‘why’ but ‘how’

Yesterday I started working on a Valentine’s day project that was inspired by a thought that came to me during my morning meditation. Here is the email I sent out to my list of loved ones last night. I invite readers to spread the love this week. Ping me if you want in on my list.

Dear friends:

On February 7 an insight came to me during my morning meditation: When it comes to love, don’t ask ‘why’ but ‘how.’ We could waste a lot of time pondering the why to no end. Asking why seems to imply that our loved ones “earn” our love by being or acting a certain way. Fact is we love whom we love. Why do we need explanations?

What truly matters is how we express our love. Do you show it through words or actions? Do you shout it from the mountaintops or send it out quietly into the universe? Most pertinently of all, do you love in ways that are consonant with the individual needs of others, or only in the manner you’re comfortable with?

These thoughts inspired me to do something for Valentine’s day as a way to reflect on how we show our love for others. Here’s the deal: Below I share with you something in my life that I love very much, but instead of telling you why, I’ll tell to you how.

If you are so inspired, I invite you to send me (and anyone else you wish) a Valentine’s day email about *how* you show your love for someone or something in your life. This can be anyone or anything at all: animal, vegetable, mineral, or something entirely abstract. The object of your love can even be you! (Major bonus points for sharing how you show love to yourself.)

While this is a mass email for expediency’s sake, if you choose to participate in this project, I will reply to you with a personal message. Yes, I am cleverly engineering it so we all get e-Valentine’s on Feb. 14!

So here is my share:

I love my garden. Continue reading

Sentimentally, it isn’t a big deal, but legally it is

Happy 21st birthday, @beYOUtifulBrian!

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I know you aren’t much for celebrating, but today I am grateful for your presence in my life. I’ll never forget the day we met, when you told me you liked my website and agreed to be my first youth advisor. Your twenty-first birthday really snuck up on me! I thought we had another year to prepare. I hope that despite all the competing demands on your time and headspace, you are excited about what lies ahead. I, for one, am looking forward to you moving into your new digs! We’ll hook you up with an account on the Camellia Network to supplement the ACS grant to cover moving and furnishing costs.

Wishing you only the best this coming year, which I know for you includes many days of dancing and filling the people around you with the spirit.

Hazards of the job

Recently I’d been thinking a lot about how this work uplifts me. On Twitter I had some wonderful conversations with advocates in the special ed and autism community about the public misperception that the populations we work with are depressing. “I could never do the work you do” is often coded language for “I could never work with those people.” It’s offensive, especially considering the fact that what’s dispiriting and draining about this work has virtually nothing to do with the people we serve.

You know what does get me down? On one level it’s the larger institutional, economic, and social structures that present significant challenges to our young people. If I dwell on them too much, it makes me lose my sense of humor. Some days I wake up wanting to punch somebody. I wish I could say that my advocacy springs from a generous Dalai Lama-esque capacity to love all my fellow human beings, but I’m not there yet. The truth is, my sense of purpose and outrage is very personally rooted. I’ll say this much: many of the stories I hear about children in foster care resonate with me.

Continue reading

ladamski gets her own blog! (and the state of this blog)

Minds On Fire’s very first guest blogger, Lindsay Adamski, is moving up in the blogging world. She’s set up shop here, where she writes about child welfare policy, strategies for working with youth in foster care, and other ideas coming from feminism, sociology, and whatever else is on her long reading list. Lindsay is passionate and insightful, and if you’ve read her posts here, you already know that she has a lively writing style.

As for my own blog posts…I’ve been writing a couple of them in my head. It isn’t February yet, but so far 2014 has been a whirlwind and I’m realizing that I need to be managing my time differently and taking better care of myself. I’m not leaving myself enough quiet, quality time to write, and frankly, it’s bumming me out. I’m completely spent by the time I get home from the office, and barely have it in me to get dinner together, much less write something thoughtful. I’ve loaded too much on my plate this spring and need to scale back. It’s not helping that the extreme cold has been messing with my exercise routine.

Upcoming (a trick for holding myself accountable):

1. Child welfare policy trends vs. life on the front lines / what it means to incorporate “youth voice”

2. Never mind vulnerability. Let’s talk discomfort and letting go of shame.

3. Also, my continuing discussion with resident devil’s advocate, Steph Cowling, on the idea of pushing our young people toward “purposeful work.”

Guest posts from Steph and new guest blogger are still in the pipeline.

My #emergingleaders inspire me

Most people who work outside the field of child welfare tend to assume that my work is dispiriting. They hear the words “foster care” and immediately think “at-risk youth,” a loaded term that conjures only negative images. They imagine that I am out every day fighting the good fight, doing charitable work for the needy. The truth is I have the best job in all of New York City. I have the best job for a whole host of reasons: terrific colleagues, flexible work hours, and a varied work week that keeps me engaged, whether I am deep in research or out in meetings. But above all, I have the best job in NYC because I am surrounded by young people who are at a stage in life where they are all trying to figure out who they are, who they want to become, and where their place is in the world. It’s fascinating.

I work most closely with my emerging leaders—young people on a mission to revolutionize child welfare and other fields of human services. They are working to connect their values, strengths, and passions to embark on careers that will sustain them financially and emotionally while improving the lives of others. Watching them go through this process is inspiring. But what is most touching about my emerging leaders is they way they all throw themselves so fully into their transitions. Aristotle would surely approve of their zealous pursuit of the good life.

How many of us would and could be productive, for example, in precarious housing situations? Sure, some of us worked jobs while going to school, but how many of us also had to navigate complex bureaucracies whose stated missions seem to contradict our daily experience of them? 

My window into the lives of my emerging leaders and other young adults who have transitioned from foster care offers me a profound and daily reminder of the strength and the goodness of the human spirit. 

News and goodies: Blog-related and otherwise

Happy New Year, friends and readers. I’ve been thinking lately that I really want to thank those of you who don’t know me in real life but read this blog anyway.

A few updates are in order:

1. Last summer I fell unexpectedly in love with Twitter. My closest friends remain incredulous. My husband was surprised by this. I myself would never have predicted this. But then again, for me surprise is the spice of life. Ping me if you’re on Twitter!  I find it easier to interact with readers there than on here. I tweet and FF tweets about #youthdev, #fostercare, #socent, #educ, #diversity in #highered, #gamification, #crowdfunding, #transition, #autism and #ASD… (I could go on and on.) My handle is @YsetteGuevara. What’s yours?

2. In related news, I will be managing the social media platforms of NYU’s diversity and inclusion team. (Talk about a surprise, since I *just* figured out Twitter and am not at all on FB.) I’ll be sharing more news on that when we launch.

3. There is reason behind this social media madness. My biggest goal for 2014 is to plan and launch a crowdfunding campaign for Incubate Good, the social entrepreneurship program I’m designing for my emerging leaders. It will be a tremendous challenge. I have to learn a lot in the next few months about setting a budget, mapping out a network tree, hosting events, producing a video, coming up with a communications plan… I’ll also have to work on managing the anxiety that will come up with all the exposure.

But you know what? I’m excited. I’m excited because I know that you will absolutely fall in love with my emerging leaders. All this will be for them. If you already like what you read about them here, you are definitely in for a treat, because during the campaign (if not before then) you will hear from them directly.

4. Lastly, there are a couple of guest posts in the pipeline:

The irreplaceable Steph Cowling will be continuing her role as devil’s advocate with some cautionary thoughts on young people’s fascination with entrepreneurship. See this article from HBR as a primer on the topic.

Additionally, I have a new guest blogger who is eager to write about her experiences working closely with young people in foster care as a life coach/youth development specialist.

2014 will be a great year, and I’m glad for your company on this journey.

Taking the measure of a year

I’ve been in transition for so long now that uncertainty and discomfort had become my life’s norms. How strange to be able to look back on a year and notice the extent of my transformation. Where once was a void, there now is a path. No doubt, I am still trailblazing (can I say trailblazing even though it still feels like bushwhacking?), but now I can clear the way for longer stretches at a time. If I had to distill 2013’s biggest lessons into pat formulas, I would say they were:

1. When facing your fears, the immediate objective is not to become “good” at something, but to become better at being a beginner.  Continue reading

Getting through the holidays as a grownup

1. Cull the holiday card list. 

When it comes to letter writing, I am devoutly old fashioned. I don’t send out professional photos of my family or type up mass letters informing you of my vacations and accomplishments for the year. If I send you a holiday greeting, it means I set pen to paper and write out a personalized message to let you know that I am grateful your presence in my life. I go the extra mile by hand addressing the envelope rather than printing out address labels.

I sincerely don’t expect any reciprocity because these letters come from the heart. The whole ritual of shopping for cards, writing my greetings, addressing the envelopes, and dropping them in the mail makes me feel really good, which is a reward in itself. I also know that my obsession with hand written letters is my very own thing mania, and the priorities and demands in my life will be different from yours.

To be honest, a few years ago I suddenly stopped sending out holiday greetings. I hated the feeling of obligation that went with the tradition. But this year I realized that no one was actually holding a gun to my head and forcing me to maintain such a huge mailing list. Because this practice is meaningful to me, I owe it to myself to make it sustainable. I did this by culling it down to include only my oldest and closest friends, family members for whom I have a real fondness, and new friends I’m very glad to have met this past year. This made it easy to write personalized, authentic greetings to everyone.

Those who didn’t make it to my list, by the way, got phone calls. (I’m really serious about letter writing being a significant gesture to me.)

2. Make plans that don’t make you feel like a prisoner.

‘Tis the season for giving and forgiving, not for suffering and guilt. Break bread with the people who make you feel warm inside. Stay only as long as you are enjoying the company. Remember, you are a grownup.

3. Care for yourself. Care for yourself. Care for yourself. 

This season required a lot of early morning meditation, winter runs in the park, and naps. Also, hugs. Lots and lots of hugs. (Is it January yet?)